RALEIGH, N.C. — Outgoing North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley on Wednesday detailed a commission that will recommend how to discourage and ultimately eliminate unfair treatment in the judicial system based on race, gender or other factors.
The Chief Justice’s Commission on Fairness and Equity was created by a Supreme Court order in October, but the panel and its members weren’t announced by the court system until Beasley’s final week on the job. Associate Justice Paul Newby, a Republican, becomes the next chief justice after narrowly defeating Beasley, a Democrat, in the November election.
The text of the order acknowledged inequalities in the judicial system “that stem from a history of deeply rooted discriminatory policies and practices and the ongoing role of implicit and explicit racial, gender, and other biases.” Beasley, the first Black woman serving as chief justice, also delivered an address following the death of George Floyd that acknowledged enduring racial inequalities in North Carolina’s system.
The October order made the chief justice or her designee the commission’s chair. Beasley chose before she left office to delegate the leadership role to two jurists — Associate Justice Michael Morgan and Court of Appeals Judge Valerie Zachary. Other commission members include Justice Sam Ervin IV, trial court judges, court attorneys, law enforcement and representatives of several interest groups.
While there is no time limit on the commission, the order directs the panel to work in 2021 and 2022 toward several recommendations. They include ways to reduce situations where low-income defendants effectively suffer more punishment because they can’t pay fines and other fees, and how to ensure no one is prevented from jury service due to explicit or implicit bias. The commission is also supposed to help create educational programs for court officials and private lawyers on systemic racism and bias.
Commission members also are asked to carry out portions of 2017 recommendations from a previous blue ribbon panel on improving North Carolina’s courts, championed by then-Chief Justice Mark Martin, a Republican. The panel’s massive final report cited 2015 surveys that found a substantial number of respondents believed members of certain groups received better treatment in state courts than others.
“If justice is to be served without favor, denial, or delay, the Judicial Branch must create an atmosphere in which every person serving in the Judicial Branch understands the importance of bias-free courts, and every person who interacts with the Judicial Branch experiences a bias-free environment,” the 2017 report reads.
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